Dem Gov interviews: Nan Whaley on vaccines, guns, dark money, and abortion

By: - April 19, 2022 3:50 am

MOUNT VERNON, OH — MARCH 25: Democratic candidate for Ohio governor Nan Whaley at a campaign meet-and-greet in Knox County, number 86 of her 88 county Ohio Deserves Better tour, March 25, 2022, at the Happy Bean Coffee Shop in Mount Vernon, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes, for the Ohio Capital Journal.)

If keeping children in school full-time is the goal, it only makes sense to require the COVID-19 vaccine the same way schools require vaccination against polio, measles, and other shots for enrollment, said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley.

“Kids need to stay in school no matter what,” said Whaley, a two-term Dayton mayor who’s quickly approaching her first statewide primary May 3.

“Having the requirement, once this is FDA approved, like all other vaccines, makes a lot of sense.”

The idea, like much of Whaley’s platform, would place her in diametrical opposition to a Republican General Assembly that has passed a law to temporarily prohibit public schools and colleges from requiring vaccination as a term of enrollment and is considering other, more expansive proposals to ban vaccine mandates.

Her gun policy tees up a similar collision course. Whaley, 46, wants to close a loophole that allows vendors at gun shows to sell weapons without conducting a background check on the buyer and to repeal recently passed legislation that removed a training and background check requirement to carry a concealed weapon in Ohio.

She said she hopes Constitutional gerrymandering reforms enacted by voters in 2015 will make for competitive general elections, which will make her agenda more politically feasible. Non-competitive districts foment polarization, she said, so more competition will drive political dynamics closer to the center.

“Keep in mind, we’ve gotten so used to a governor that completely folds to a radical legislature, that we’re not used to seeing a governor who will actually stand up to radicals,” she said. “It’s the extremism and radicalness in that legislature that’s the problem, not the partisanship.”

Whaley was born in 1976 (the same year incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine first won office as a county prosecutor). She grew up in Indiana before attending the University of Dayton. At 29 years old, she became the youngest woman ever elected to the Dayton City Commission in 2005 before ascending to mayor in 2013 and winning reelection in 2017.

Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley (R) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) join fellow Democrats for a news conference at the U.S. Capitol Sept. 9, 2019. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Dark money

Throughout her campaign, Whaley has focused on the criminal corruption allegations running through the Statehouse. FirstEnergy Corp., an electric utility, has admitted to spending tens of millions through opaque nonprofit entities bribing the House Speaker and a top regulator. Two alleged conspirators have pleaded guilty in connection with the charges. The former speaker awaits trial next year.

In response, she proposed forming a “Public Accountability Commission” that can refer investigations to Ohio’s currently existing watchdog agencies like the Ohio Elections Commission (which investigates campaign finance violations), the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee, the Ohio Inspector General or the attorney general. She said there’s a need for more transparency on what these bodies have or have not been doing regarding the scandal, which was publicly identified by federal prosecutors as opposed to the various state agencies.

Whaley’s platform calls on closing “dark money” loopholes, referring to the use of nonprofits to raise unlimited sums from donors who are not publicly disclosed and spending it on elections.

It’s a practice she knows. Financial disclosure forms from 2018 and 2020 identify Whaley as a consultant for the Ohio Progressive Collaborative. Whaley confirmed she worked as a fundraiser for the nonprofit, which funds various progressive causes.

In this time period, the group raised $260,000 from a nonprofit association of Ohio’s private nursing homes, $75,000 from a public employee’s union, $100,000 from an entity funded by American Electric Power, $131,000 from a teacher’s association, and $25,000 from beer and wine wholesalers, among others.

“The work that we did to make sure that OPC was helping to register voters in Ohio and to encourage Ohioans to become more engaged in important issues, I think, is night and day compared to what is the largest bribery scandal in Ohio history, where you had [FirstEnergy] funding folks to basically get a bailout,” she said. “That’s very different than the altruistic work of funding things to make sure [people] vote and register to vote.”


As both Whaley and her primary opponent, John Cranley, admit, they’re aligned on most issues. However, Whaley insists she’s the bona fide pro-choice candidate while Cranley flipped on the issue to win a primary.

Cranley opposed abortion in his congressional bids in the 2000s. However, he said in a recent debate and interview that he came around on the issue in 2017, attributing it to a “personal, private fertility decision.”

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected this summer could kill or cripple the landmark ruling (Roe v. Wade) affirming women’s right to receive an abortion. Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly regularly advance bills attacking this right in ways large — like outright abortion bans — and small, via rule changes that chip away at abortion access. Last week, a Hamilton County judge ordered an injunction, temporarily blocking the enactment of Senate Bill 157, requiring the health department to pull technical agreements that allow two abortion clinics in Dayton and Cincinnati to operate.

“When we’ve had to fight to keep Dayton and Cincinnati open, where was John Cranley if he was pro-choice?” she said. “That was the past few years. It’s a real sign that this isn’t a center issue for him.”

Her campaign website notes she has won endorsements from abortion advocates EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio and Pro-Choice Ohio.

Nan Whaley at a press conference announcing her endorsement by the Ohio Environmental Council. Photo by Nick Evans, OCJ.


Here are other takeaways from Whaley’s interview, edited for length and clarity.

OCJ: During the debate, you and Cranley spent more time going after DeWine than one another. I had a hard time finding daylight between the two of you. Is that characterization fair? What distinguishes you from Cranley?

“I think in general, if you talk about ideas, there are similarities with some very key differences.”

“Coming from the working class and being in the working class, I’m the only non-millionaire in this race. I think that makes a big difference.”

“I had a style of being consensus building, bringing people together to move the community to move the community forward. And I don’t have this kind of, my-way-or-the-highway attitude that Mayor Cranley led with.”

“Oh, and I don’t know if you know, but I also am a woman. That is different.”

OCJ: At the debate, it sounded like you weren’t ready to say qualified immunity should be abolished for police officers. Why are you not ready to go there and how do you think better police oversight should work?

“I am not in favor of getting rid of qualified immunity. I know, as a mayor, it will bankrupt cities and it would also affect us getting the kinds of police officers that we need in our communities if we got rid of it.”

“At the same time, I do think we need to do a lot more to make sure when people have interactions with the police, that they’re treated with dignity and respect. That’s the work we’ve done with police reform in Dayton, and that’s the work I’d continue to do as governor.”

OCJ: If you do wind up as governor over a Republican legislature, there are only so many issues you can put the oomph of the office into. So what are your top three?

  1. “I want folks’ pay to go up” … [by steering state funds to contractors who pay workers well, investing in renewable energy technology, and passing a $15 an hour minimum wage]
  2. “I think we really need to get bills down, so really investing in childcare and pre-school, that has really been a challenge for families.”
  3. “Getting the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share so property taxes can go down across the state,” including by closing a tax break for LLCs.

OCJ: Joe Biden’s approval ratings look pretty brutal for any Democrat running anywhere. More than 30 Democrats in Congress have announced retirement plans. What do you make of the current political environment right now for Democrats, especially in a Trump +8 state like Ohio?

“I actually, I don’t view it as a Democrat or Republican issue. I think it’s incumbency. They want to throw everyone out. So in Ohio, that happens to be good if you’re a Democrat given Republicans have been in charge for three decades.”



Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.